The spruiker

April 17, 2015 at 8:00 am | Posted in Short Story | 2 Comments
Tags: , , , ,

The traffic lights went red and Sydney Road turned expectantly for Ray’s first syllable.

Ray polished his shoes, put on his best suit and took his resume to the interview. He needn’t have bothered; the Bargain Bin was not a professionally managed operation.

The balding director waved at a couch with a Winfield Blue and hairy, ring-ridden fingers. His mobile battled love handles for a purchase on his belt, while his staff pecked sullenly at computer terminals to hits of the 60s, 70s and 80s.

‘Siddown. I’m expecting 20 of youse.’

Ray waited patiently. Two more applicants arrived, both nervous and twitchy. Latching onto Ray they began simultaneous, high-speed monologues. After a while, they found two things in common: broken homes and car accident injuries. To Ray’s intense relief they bonded, crossed the foyer and studiously continued their prattle.

Eventually it became clear that the other 17 candidates had better things to do. The director waded towards the three whose chances of employment had improved out of sight. There was no interview or audition, the theme of the director’s address being, ‘Youse’ll all get a go to see how ya get on’.

Ray watched with surprise as his new colleagues, having missed the message completely, began a mellifluous ingratiation contest.

‘Perhaps I could dress in costume – a gorilla or the Easter Bunny – something of that order – so as to entice more patrons into your shop? I was once the Lolly Gobble Bliss Bomb Boy, you know. And the Town Crier at the Cheltenham shopping centre.’

‘Have you heard about the special at Tandy? For $19.95 you can buy a microphone which transmits to a radio frequency. All you need do is bring your own stereo and tune it to the microphone. Perhaps your other employees could make use of this technology. You could save a great deal of money.’

The director heard them out; Ray couldn’t imagine why. When they had exhausted their store of offerings, there began the allocation of territories. Ray was given Coburg. It wasn’t close, but he was prepared to travel for $20 an hour. He thanked the director and took his leave as the others argued the relative merits of Maribyrnong and Moonee Ponds.


The Coburg Bargain Bin has the same stock and layout as every other metropolitan store. It is different, however, in terms of its careworn fittings and the tang of despair which hangs, like machine shop mist, in the fluorescent air.

In Prahran and the CBD, browsers pick up an item or two on impulse. In Coburg, the Bargain Bin is an essential source of substitutes for those unable to afford the real thing. For these Australians, chocolate is waxy, nuts are bitter and perfume loses its fragrance on application. Better than Somalia, certainly. But poverty is relative.


Having scored a park outside the shop, Ray suppressed his nerves and went inside. A stout young woman with the eyes of a survivor greeted him pleasantly and summoned the manager over the tinny intercom. Plastered with pricing stickers and sporting a bird’s nest of dyed hair, Soula bustled from the back room and received Ray’s handshake uncertainly, then pointed out the day’s specials.

Ray took notes, filled two baskets with bargains and carried them outside. The woman plugged in his extension cord and soon all was ready. The traffic lights went red and Sydney Road turned expectantly for Ray’s first syllable. Heart pounding, he took up his microphone and reached into a basket: cat food. He began in a hoarse and quavering voice.

‘Er … good morning and welcome to the Bargain Bin … I’m, um, Ray and today we have some wonderful specials for you … today. Um … specials like this … cat food for only … 50 cents a can. That’s four cans for … um … two dollars. And, um, we have dog food … too. Here … Today …’

The lights went green and Coburg turned its collective back on the performance. Ray felt sick; he had four hours to fill.

He struggled on, having no impact on the flow of customers into the shop. He felt like a failure, both to himself and to his employer. Then the director’s words came back to him: ‘They’re bunnies; they go for noise and movement. Doesn’t matter what you say or do; just get their attention.’

Ray realised there was no need to be boring and facile. He was a writer and performer of things black, surreal and occasionally funny. He resolved to see how far he could pursue his own twisted path while selling crap from a footpath. He returned to the odious cat food, from a very different direction.

‘Ladies and gentlemen, the thing about cats is that they do not watch television. Nor can they read. Hence they are unmoved by the advertising of multinational conglomerates. Cats are not interested in two grams of sun-dried tuna, served on crystal and costing more than cocaine. Rather, they are interested in having sex and forcing as much food down their throats as possible.

‘The Bargain Bin recognises this truth. We have large tins of cat food for only fifty cents. Gram for gram, this represents a saving of over $320 in comparison to the sliver of tinfoil known as Sheba – available in the David Jones food court. Nor have we placed any limit on the number of tins you may buy. As far as we’re concerned, you may arrive with a flat tray truck and purchase our entire stock in one hit. Yes! Unlike the supermarkets, you may exploit our bargains to your heart’s content.’

To Ray’s delight, several people slowed, then turned into the shop.

‘At the Bargain Bin, we have more bargains that you can poke two sticks at. We have everything you could possibly need. We even have a wide range of things you don’t need. And our prices are so low you can afford to hurl your unnecessary purchases straight into the bin, unused, the moment you get home.’

The trickle of customers swelled. Ray held up a six pack of toilet paper and raised the bar.

‘I believe society can be divided into two categories. There are people who pay $3.50 for six rolls of toilet paper, and there are people who pay $1.50 for six rolls of toilet paper. Those in the first category lead miserable, stunted lives, devoid of pleasure and meaning. I, in the second category, choose to spend only $1.50 for a product whose use is temporal and whose fate is preordained. I elect to save $2.00 every time I buy toilet paper. I thus have more discretionary income for really exciting things, like, drugs, gambling and wild, salacious women.’

Inside the shop, a second register was opened to cope with the influx. Ray’s second hour flew and the lunchtime rush began. Superglue, candles, confectionery, sticky-tape, Tupperware, hose fittings, greeting cards, baby clothes. All became subjects of a relentless socio-political discourse. A middle-aged Asian man mistook Ray for a busker and tossed him forty-five cents.

His bold approach thus validated, Ray turned up his amplifier. A screech of feedback startled the street. As Ray fought to bring the unit under control, a shadow fell across him. He looked up. It was the owner of the bottle shop next door.

‘You crack my window with that racket and I’ll crack your face.’

Ray beheld the man’s bloody minded determination, and the blonde he was seeking to impress. He thought of witty retorts, which he was too weak to deliver, and retreated. Victorious, the man smugly took the waist of his mistress and began loudly extolling the virtues of his shopfront. Burning with rage, Ray fiddled with his merchandise. An employee from the same bottle shop sauntered past and bluntly added his disapproval of the morning’s performance.


Ray took a break to settle his nerves, then carefully tuned and oriented his amplifier away from the bottle shop. Slowly, he got back into the swing of things.

‘These jigsaw puzzles are only one dollar each! So cheap that if your child chokes on one of the pieces, you’ll have saved enough to pay for the hospital bill!’

Car passengers wound down their windows and grinned. A knot of youths stood off and endeavoured to look cool.

‘Many of you with gardens will be familiar with their propensity to grow, especially in spring. The Bargain Bin can help you combat this phenomenon with the Big Scary Saw. This saw is not only big, it’s scary. In fact, the American Institute of Weapons Research, which plots tool size and scariness relative to price, has rated this saw a whopping 9.71 on the Big Scary Saw Scale.

‘Nor is the Big Scary Saw’s use limited to pruning. With the advent of Victoria’s gun control legislation, the Big Scary Saw is an ideal substitute for dealing with difficult domestic situations. It can also be used to discipline children, repel home invaders and cut the heads off garden gnomes.’

People smiled as they passed. Many went inside the shop. Curious children had to be dragged away. At the end of a well-received monologue on the Amazonian Tiger Lily’s ability to self-fertilise, the knot of youths moved forward.

With thick lips and pimples, the leader stepped close to Ray.

‘Gi’s a go on the mike, will ya?

‘No, sorry mate, I cant.’

‘Carn mate, gi’s a go!’

‘No, I can’t, mate. Sorry.’

‘Gi’s a f*ckin’ go, C*NT!’

The youth seized the microphone and yelled ‘GET F*CKED M*THAF*CKAAAAR!’ to his suburb. The gang fell about with laughter. Ray snatched back the microphone and summoned his most threatening face. The leader leered defiantly and stared back. Ray held the gaze, panicking for his fragile amplifier. The seconds passed until suddenly, the young man feigned a punch, halting his fist millimeters from Ray’s nose.

To his own astonishment, Ray did not flinch. The leader noted the assembling onlookers. With a final insult, he ceded to the imprecations his friends and withdrew. Ray realised why the money for his new job was so good.


After the third hour, Ray began to come out of shock. Rival shops had hastily pressganged their employees to counter his pull on customers. The bored voices of back-room staff droned through bodgy tannoys.

Ray felt safer for their presence and flattered by their attempts to emulate him. Filled with the desire to blow them off the planet, he picked up a lime green, sausage-shaped draught stopper and swung it around his head, narrowly missing an exiting customer. A tram halted and a group of tourists pointed and laughed.

‘Ladies and gentlemen, this is without doubt the most exciting product in the Bargain Bin’s range of consumer goods. A product whose use is limited only by your imagination, and one which can save your marriage overnight.’

Afternoon shoppers looked at the whirling sausage and snorted with surprise.

‘Tomorrow is Friday. I want you to get a slab of beer and/or a couple of bottles of red. I want you to buy one of these items and lay it on your kitchen table. I want you to turn off all the lights in your home and fill it with the twenty-cent candles I spoke about earlier. Then, when your partner gets home, I want you to change his or her life by …’

A grey Akubra caught Ray’s eye. He lowered the draught stopper and fumbled to a close. A silver badge reading “Bruno, Moreland Council” moved toward him.

‘How’s it going?’ enquired Bruno.

‘Oh, pretty good. Yeah. Not bad.’

‘We’ve had a few complaints; four in the last hour, actually. Could I see your permit please?’

Ray’s blood chilled. ‘Permit?’

Bruno unfolded a many-times photocopied paragraph.

Ray read the by-law he had unwittingly violated. He pointed behind him. ‘I’m employed by the store. They’ve probably got a permit inside.’

‘They don’t; we warned them three times last week about this.’

‘Well, surely it’s a matter between you and them, then.’

‘No. You’re the one breaking the law. This is between you and the Council.’

‘What’s the penalty?’

‘First offence, $100.’

‘Jesus. Five hours’ work.’

After an impassioned plea, Bruno let Ray off with a warning.

Ray alerted the store manager.

‘Oh, they’re always threatening us. Don’t pay any attention; they’re just full of hot air.’

‘I have to pay attention, Soula. I can’t afford a hundred buck fine! Can’t you get a permit?’

‘I’ll talk to the boss. What d’you want to do? Are you gonna go home?’

‘It’s almost knock off time. Maybe I will go home. Can you get the boss to let me know what the story is?’


‘How’d we do today?’

‘You did good. You were fine.’

‘See you, then.’

‘Yeah, see ya.’


Ray is still waiting for his cheque.

The director of the Bargain Bin has advised that he is ‘looking into’ the permit situation.

 Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

Pic by Lauri Rantala.



RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

  1. Cracking short story! Keep them coming. I always enjoy my Imagine Day read. Thanks!

    • Thanks so much, Ad! Your kind comment means a very great deal to me. With best regards and a frangible oriental hanger for your smalls. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at
Entries and comments feeds.

%d bloggers like this: